Jasper Johns: “Something Resembling Truth” at the Royal Academy of Arts
Jasper Johns is one of the great American artists. His work gets to the heart of what it means to be American, utilising some of the nation’s most important iconography such as the stars and stripes of the American flag. The flag is central to the exhibition of Johns’s work at the Royal Academy. The thematic, rather than chronological, approach means that it appears again and again, sometimes in intense concentration, other times as a more casual reference in another context.
The artist’s return to this motif points to the nature of the flag itself. Repeated all over the place, the flag seems to have a fixed and reoccurring meaning; but closer inspection reveals each one to be slightly different, and to offer a new meaning in a different context. In this way, Johns’s work explores the creation of national identity while also asking deep and important questions about the nature of artistic identity and the creation of artistic meaning.
The exhibition at the RA helpfully teases out these strands of Johns’s practice, while also pointing to his importance in the development of conceptual art and the move away from Abstract Expressionism that was fundamental to art in the 1960s.
From this early period, Johns began to incorporate found objects into his artwork, and even today these remain fresh, interesting and some of the most exciting works in the show. Everyday objects such as coffee cans and paint brushes are either stuck to the canvas, or painstakingly reproduced in bronze and exhibited as sculptures. Johns uses this to challenge the notion of the art object, the two-dimensionality of the picture plane, and the language we use to talk about art. This is cerebral stuff but, because he uses the visual language of everyday life, his conceptual ideas don’t feel out of reach.
Jasper Johns: “Something Resembling Truth” is sensitively curated, helping viewers to understand the artist’s complex practice and the importance of his contribution to art history. It’s an exhibition that makes the most of the large spaces of the Royal Academy and it benefits from being lingered over.
Featured Image: Jasper Johns, Racing Thoughts, 1983
Jasper Johns: “Something Resembling Truth” is at the Royal Academy of Arts from 23rd September until 10th December 2017, for further information or to book visit the Royal Academy of Arts website here.